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  • Sport

Three brilliant victories in the All-Ireland U-21 Championship

Wednesday, 27th April, 2011 8:15am


GALWAY vs Cavan in the U-21 Football Championship does have a history. They clashed just once, in the 1988 All-Ireland semi-final, but the disappointment of a shock defeat by Cavan lingered for many years. [private]Galway had a star-studded team, most of whom had won All-Ireland Minor medals in 1986, and two years later they should undoubtedly have been good enough to add an All-Ireland U-21 title to the Roll of Honour.

From the "high" of a stunning victory over Cork in the 1986 All-Ireland Minor final at Croke Park — by 3-8 to 2-7, with the goals scored by Tomás Mannion, Peter Maher and Tommy Finnerty — Galway went on to achieve an U-21 Four-in-a-Row in Connacht but they lost the All-Ireland semi-finals of 1987, '88 and '90, and the 1989 final to Cork, 2-8 to 1-10.

In the first three of those four years, Galway defeated Roscommon in the Connacht final: by 1-10 to 0-10 (1987), 0-10 to 0-6 (1988) and by 1-13 to 0-3 (1989), and in 1990 they defeated Leitrim 0-9 to 0-5. Leitrim avenged that defeat the following year, taking the title from Galway in the 1991 Connacht final, by 1-7 to 0-9.

It was particularly disappointing not to go all the way in 1988, for with all due respect to the All-Ireland finalists, Offaly (the winners, 0-11 to 0-9) and Cavan, Galway were considered to have had superior quality in that era, from the platform of a potentially outstanding midfield pairing — probably best two young high-fielders in Ireland in the late 1980s/early 90s: John Joyce (R.I.P.) and Kevin Walsh, although Big Kevin was sometimes played at full-forward in those years. In my opinion, no young midfielder anywhere could be compared to John Joyce and Kevin Walsh until the Kerry Gaeltacht produced Darragh Ó Sé on the two victorious U-21 teams of 1995/96.

That Kerry team defeated Mayo in the 1995 final and Cavan a year later. That year, 1996, Cavan also produced a brilliant young midfielder, Dermot McCabe, an All-Star the following year, one of only two Cavan footballers to be named All-Stars; the first was Ollie Brady in 1978.

For reasons lost in the mists of time, the victorious Galway Minor team manager in 1986, John Tobin, wasn't given the U-21s in the following three years; that job became John Joe Holleran's and the present Football Board chairman was hugely disappointed to lose to Cavan in the 1988 semi-final, which no doubt he'll seek to avenge this weekend.

At Croke Park next Sunday, Galway manager Alan Mulholland and Cavan selector Ronan Carolan will share a friendly handshake at some stage, either before or after the game. They provide a link with that 1988 All-Ireland U-21 semi-final at Páirc Sheáin Mhic Diarmada, Carrick-on-Shannon: Mulholland was the Galway centre half-back and Carolan played at midfield for Cavan, kicking six points, five off frees. It finished Cavan 1-15 Galway 0-10.

In front of an attendance of 3,000, mostly Cavan supporters, the Ulster champions led by 0-12 to 0-4 at half-time and it was over as a contest early in the second half when Cavan got a soft goal, to put them 11 points up. Tomás Kilcommins, Norman Costello and Tommy Finnerty hit late points for Galway, but it was damage limitation at that stage.

Galway: Peter Smith (Salthill); Bosco Walsh (Killanin), Séamus Ó Ráinne (Leitir Móir), Ger O'Farrell (Salthill); Brian Silke (Corofin), Alan Mulholland (Salthill), Francis McWalter (Monivea-Abbey); John Joyce (Salthill, 0-2), Kevin Walsh (Killanin); Norman Costello (Salthill, 0-2), Fergal O'Neill (Glenamaddy), Tomás Kilcommins (St Brendan's, 0-3, all frees); Michael Tarpey (Salthill, 0-1), Diarmuid Leen (Renmore, 0-1), Tommy Finnerty (Oughterard, 0-1, free). Subs used: Enda Geraghty (Glenamaddy), Enda Hurney (Moycullen) and Maurice McDonagh (Tuam Stars).

Cavan: J. Reilly; S. Smith, D. O'Reilly, B. Sweeney; J. Donnellan, D. McDonnell, P. Sharkey; R. Carolan (0-6, five frees), M. Fagan (0-2); F. Cahill (0-1), V. Kelly (0-1), D. Brady (1-1); F. Mooney, V. Dowd (0-2), S. Donoghue (0-2).

THE FIRST of three memorable victories for Galway in the All-Ireland U-21 Championship came in 1972, two years after an All-Ireland Minor title and naturally there was a crossover between the two panels, just as the Kerry team who lost the 1970 Minor final to Galway, in a replay, provided the bulk of their U-21 team in '72. It is still astonishing to think that those vanquished Kerry teams featured players who would go on to become household names in the following years, including Paudie O'Mahony, Jimmy Deenihan, Paudie Lynch, Ger O'Keeffe, Mickey Ned O'Sullivan, Ger Power and John Egan. 
From 1975 on, those seven Kerry footballers would win a total of 27 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship medals between them.

A super-talented Galway team, captained by Milltown's Joe Waldron, defeated Kerry in the 1972 All-Ireland U-21 final by 2-6 to 0-7. That year, too, Galway won the U-21 Hurling title — a magnificent double.

In the final against Kerry, the footballers lined out as follows: Martin Noonan (St Michaels); Joe Waldron, captain (Milltown), John Dillon (St Gabriel's, Kilconnell), Barney Costello (Monivea-Abbey); P. J. Burke (Annaghdown), Michael Geraghty (Glenamaddy), Seán Stevens (Tuam Stars); Michael Walsh (Oughterard), Michael Rooney (Cortoon); Pat Burke (Corofin), Tom Naughton (Annaghdown), Maurice Burke (Corofin); Joe Lardner (Annaghdown), Francis Rushe (Mountbellew), John Tobin (Tuam Stars). Sub., Eamon Monahan (Caherlistrane), for Joe Lardner.

On to 2002: Galway U-21s, with the same management team as the seniors — John O'Mahony, Steven Joyce and Peter Warren — were opposed in the All-Ireland final at O'Moore Park, Portlaoise by a Dublin team whose mentors included Tommy Lyons and Tuam-born Brian Talty. Their team fielded star players such as Stephen Cluxton, Paul Casey, Barry Cahill, Darren Magee, Conal Keaney and Alan Brogan. Galway were able to look to the 2001 All-Ireland S.F.C. experience of Joe Bergin, Kieran Fitzgerald, Mike  and Kieran Comer. Those four lads really showed leadership in the U-21 campaign and after a brilliant game in the final, between two grand teams, Bergin had the honour of lifting the Cup on a 0-15 to 0-7 scoreline.

Team: David Morris (Corofin); Clive Monahan (Caherlistrane), Kieran Fitzgerald (Corofin), Ml. Comer (Corofin); Richard Murray (Oranmore-Maree), Diarmaid Blake (Milltown), Kevin Brady (Kilconly), Joe Bergin, captain (Mountbellew / Moylough), Kieran Comer (Corofin); Matthew Clancy (Oughterard), John Devane (Milltown), Damien Burke (Annaghdown); Michael Meehan (Caltra), Derry O'Brien (Mountbellew / Moylough), Nicholas Joyce (Killererin). Sub used: David Hanly (Corofin).

Another marvellous U-21 Championship campaign in 2005, as Galway scored a big win over Mayo and then beat a star-studded Cork team in the All-Ireland semi-final at Páirc na Gael, Limerick. The All-Ireland final at Cusack Park, Mullingar was a classic scoring exhibition: Galway 6-5 Down 4-6.

In four matches, captained from the full-back line by Alan Burke of Corofin, Galway played sensational attacking football, and the full-forward line stole the show in every outing. Michael Meehan, Cathal Blake and Seán Armstrong finished the campaign with a whopping 9-38 between them, of which Meehan and Armstrong accounted for 9-35: Meehan with 5-20 (5-8 from play) and Armstrong on 4-15 (4-10 from play).

Alan Burke had the extra satisfaction of following in family footsteps, as his father Maurice and uncle Pat (father of senior player Damien) were in the great 1972 Galway U-21 team.

There was personal pride for Michael Meehan, too. The gifted young Caltra man, from one of the truly great sporting families, had already won an All-Ireland U-21 medal in 2002.

Galway 2005, vs Down: Micheál Killilea (St Brendan's); Alan Burke, captain (Corofin), Finian Hanley (Salthill-Knocknacarra), Matthew Flannery (Milltown); Darren Mullahy (Milltown), Niall Coyne (Cárna-Caiseal), Gary Sice (Corofin); Niall Coleman (Annaghdown), Barry Cullinane (Claregalway); Brian Faherty (Moycullen), Damien Dunleavy (Kilkerrin-Clonberne), Fiachra Breathnach (Naomh Ana, Leitir Mór); Ml. Meehan (Caltra), Cathal Blake (Milltown), Seán Armstrong (Salthill-Knocknacarra). Subs used: Jamie Murphy (Tuam Stars), Alan Glynn (St Michael's).

Big midfielder Barry Cullinane made G.A.A. history in 2005; he became the first Galway player to win All-Ireland U-21 football and hurling medals in the same year.

QUOTE … from 1972 victorious captain Joe Waldron, as featured in our back page this week:

"It was very special for us that the Galway senior stars went to the U-21 final to support us. Men like Jack Cosgrove and Liam Sammon, heroes to us younger player; it was inspirational."[/private]

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